Sep. 12, 2007

Late For Summer Weather

by William Carlos Williams

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Poem: "Late For Summer Weather" by William Carlos Williams, from The Collected Poems of William Carlos Williams: Volume 1 1909–1939. New Directions, 1991. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

Late For Summer Weather

He has on
an old light grey Fedora
She a black beret

He a dirty sweater
She an old blue coat
that fits her tight

Grey flapping pants
Red skirt and
broken down black pumps

Fat Lost Ambling
nowhere through
the upper town they kick

their way through
heaps of
fallen maple leaves

still green-and
crisp as dollar bills
Nothing to do. Hot cha!

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of the journalist and editor H(enry) L(ouis) Mencken, (books by this author) born in Baltimore, Maryland (1880). He published his first two articles when he was 18 years old, each of them less than 50 words long. On the morning those articles appeared in the paper, Mencken said, "I was up with the milkman ... to search the paper and when I found both of my pieces, exactly as written, there ran such thrills through my system as ... 100,000 volts of electricity could not have matched."

Mencken went on to become one of the most influential and prolific journalists in America. His masterpiece was The American Language (1919), a history and collection of American vernacular speech.

H.L. Mencken said, "The capacity of human beings to bore one another seems to be vastly greater than that of any other animals. Some of their most esteemed inventions have no other apparent purpose, for example, the dinner party of more than two, the epic poem, and the science of metaphysics."

It's the birthday of poet and novelist Michael Ondaatje, (books by this author) born in a village outside of Colombo, Ceylon, a country that is now known as Sri Lanka (1943). He went to school in Canada, where he began his writing career as a poet, and went on to publish his novel The English Patient (1992), about a nameless burn victim who begins telling stories about his life to his nurse. The novel won the Booker Prize and it was made into a movie in 1996.

It's the birthday of Polish science fiction writer Stanislaw Lem, (books by this author) born in Lviv, Poland [now part of the Ukraine] (1921). He was a young man when Nazis invaded Poland and he had to hide his Jewish identity. After the war, he decided that regular realistic fiction wasn't sufficient to describe the world anymore, so he wrote fiction that took place thousands of years in the future. He's best known for his novel Solaris (1961), about a scientist who travels to a space station near a strange planet and meets the ghost of his wife.

It's the birthday of publisher Alfred A. Knopf, born in New York City (1892). He thought more people would read good books if books were more beautiful to look at. So he used beautiful, easy-to-read type and high-quality paper, and he was the first publisher to cover his books with brightly colored jackets.

It was on this day in 1609 that the explorer Henry Hudson sailed up the river to which he would give his name. He had been hired by the Dutch East India Company to find a passage to Asia through the North Pole, and he thought the Hudson River might be that passage. The Mohican Indians called the river "Great Waters Constantly in Motion." Hudson sailed up the river with his men on this day in 1609, and they anchored their ship that night on an area of land that would become Manhattan's West 42nd Street.

Hudson and his men sailed up the river for about a month, until they reached what would become Albany. By then Hudson had decided that this wasn't the Northwest Passage, and he turned back. He and his men were almost killed by Indians on his return journey, but they reached the open sea on October 4 and headed back to Amsterdam.

Henry Hudson never saw that river again, and though it became known as the Hudson River, he probably died thinking of it as one of his many failures. During his last known voyage, his men mutinied and forced him into a tiny lifeboat, where he was set adrift in what became known as the Hudson Bay. No one knows what happened to him.

It was on this day in 1940 that four teenage boys discovered the Lascaux cave paintings, one of the greatest works of prehistoric art ever found — more than 200 paintings and 1,500 engravings of animals, including bulls, deer, oxen, herds of horses, stags, and cats, painted in various shades of yellow, red, brown, and black. There is also a single painting of a man, lying on his back as though dead, hidden off in a far corner of the cave.

Anthropologists were particularly impressed with the quality of the paintings. They were not primitive stick figures of animals, but realistic drawings with beautiful, fluid lines, showing the various creatures turning their heads, walking through water, falling off cliffs. The paintings cover the walls all the way up to the ceiling, and there were holes in the wall where the prehistoric artists inserted logs to reach the higher levels. Art historians have compared the Lascaux cave paintings to the work of Picasso. Others have called Lascaux the prehistoric Sistine Chapel.

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